These are always a bad sign. Hardly a politician appears on television
who doesn’t stand in front of an American flag, sometimes three
American flags. A venomous nationalism now poisons the air, and
grows. We are off and rolling.
of fascism spread. General David Petraeus, commander of the Eastern
Front, poses with the President in the White House in combat fatigues.
The country is now the Homeland, reminiscent of the Nazi Fatherland
and the Soviet Motherland. We hear of American Exceptionalism, the
ritual self-idolization beloved of pathological nationalism. Blood
and Soil. The American Dream. Ubermenschen. All we need is a short
We may get
one. The times ripen for a man on a horse. (Or perhaps a woman:
Twitler of Alaska looms.) An ignorant population, unread, unfamiliar
with the outside world, focuses its anxieties on troubling dark
things lurking abroad, the brown hordes from the south, the rising
Chinese, inexplicable Moslems who want to kill all Christians. Sooner
rather than later such a mob finds solace in an angry unity. From
an unhappy lower middle-class spring Brown Shirts. Wait.
together: Falling standards of living across a country in irremediable
decline, diminishing expectations, growing anger in search of focus,
a sense of a birthright being stolen as preeminence drifts across
the Pacific. Here is fertile soil for some strange crop not yet
It will play
out against a backdrop of totalitarian watchfulness all too imaginable.
A digital world lends itself to tyranny, making it, I think, inescapable.
For practical purposes, the capacity to store data is infinite,
to network it across the world, to track, to scan, to watch. This
is not the place for a disquisition on the technology of surveillance.
Just note that the machinery exists for a totalitarian watchfulness
beyond Stalin’s wettest dreams. The government wants this,
pushes for it daily, and gets it. You can’t spend a dollar,
take a flight, or send an e-mail without a federal office watching.
It is getting worse and cannot be stopped. Surveillance is too easy.
We will be
told, are being told, that to be safe we must submit, that enemies
within and without are upon us, that terrorists spawn plots everywhere.
Where communists once hid in every closet and the House Un-American
Activities Committee, HUAC, hunted them, now we have Islamo-terrorists
hunted by Homeland Security.
civil rights when the Moslem is at our throats? The price of liberty
is eternal vigilance, and the vigilance ends liberty.
flowers. Homeland Security now wants to train us in how to react
to a nuclear attack, la 1950. Scare’m, keep’em scared,
tell them you are protecting them, and they will kiss your boots.
An Australian publishes embarrassing cable traffic from American
embassies, and politicians call for him to be killed by the CIA.
The agency is revered as a sort of clandestine Batman and Robin,
defending America secretly where evil swirls in the coming night.
Kill, kill. On subways we are told to watch each other, to report
curious behavior to the authorities. Nothing can stop this.
becomes a fading memory. Random searches in train stations, genital
examinations in airports, the decline of habeas corpus, the evasion
of the duty of Congress to declare wars, on and on. The government
does what it wants. There is no recourse. We are told that it is
to make us safe. I haven’t asked to be made safe.
of American politics is to espouse democracy while keeping political
power from the people. The trick is to have barely distinguishable
candidates for the presidency who carefully avoid mention of substance
– the wars, for example, or affirmative action, guns, abortion.
These elections, if so they be, allow people to wave placards, roar
invective about throwing the rascals out and returning to traditional
American etc. The dust settles and things remain as they were.
does not rest with the people. Today, decree replaces legislation,
and must, for our safety. If Homeland Security says you must go
through a CAT scan, naked, and singing the Star Spangled Banner,
then you have to do it. There is no recourse. You can unelect an
elected official, but there is no way to get at a bureaucrat. If
you do not submit, you go to jail.
will hear the death rattle of free expression. No government sees
an advantage to itself in a free press, though countries with decent
governments feel much less threatened. Our government fears nothing
a carefully controlled press that appears free because it is not
explicitly controlled by the government. But the real power in America
rests with the big corporations and their lobbies, with Wall Street,
whose personnel move in and out of the formal government at will.
All of the traditional media, radio, newspapers, and television,
are owned by large corporations. How curious that they do not question
The only free
press in America is the Internet, and the government does not like
it. Washington now moves to “regulate” it. To promote
fairness, you see, to prevent piracy, and to maintain national security.
Then it will be found necessary to suppress “hate sites.”
Just now you are reading a site that has been blocked on many federal
installations for promoting hate. There is no recourse.
How will this
play out? America retreats behind its emotional borders, gazes over
the ramparts, frightened and hostile. In those outlets of the media
than pander to The Heartland, to the manipulable unlettered, the
nationalist drumbeat grows apace. That America’s bankruptcy
results from America’s economic policies, that the country
is everywhere hated because of willfully chosen behavior –
this does not occur to people who do not read, who do not so much
as know the dates of World War II. They will find someone else to
blame. Liberals. Mohammedans. Mexicans.
A danger is
that the country will lash out abroad, ever more feebly as the economy
declines, at nations that no will longer pay attention to it. Washington
says that it “will not tolerate a nuclear Iran,” and Iran
ignores the admonition. You cannot not tolerate what you can’t
prevent. The Pentagon sends the carriers to steam ferally in circles
off North Korea, which ignores them. The consequences of wounded
vanity are not trivial in world affairs, as anyone knows who has
a familiarity with the Treaty of Versailles. But who does?
It serves nothing
to raise alarms, to pen Philippics, to gnash hands and wring teeth.
Minor political currents can be diverted by protest, but this one
is the torrent subsequent to a broken dam. It will go where it will,
as the Thirties went where they would. Hold on tight.
is author of Nekkid
in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and A
Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. His latest
book is Curmudgeing
Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle. Visit